Police officers are seen at the site where authorities are excavating a mass grave at the home of a former police officer in Chalchuapa, El Salvador, on May 27, 2021. A court recently ordered the news website Revista Factum to take down an article about that case. (Reuters/Jose Cabezas)

Salvadoran court orders Revista Factum to take down reporting on murder case

Guatemala City, June 17, 2021 – Salvadoran authorities should immediately rescind a court order requiring the independent news website Revista Factum to take down an article, and should allow the media to report freely on issues of public interest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 14, the First Peace Court in the city of Santa Ana ordered Revista Factum to take down an article on an ongoing investigation into a mass grave in the western city of Chalchuapa, according to the court order and an announcement on Twitter by the attorney general’s office.

In the order, prosecutors accused the website of committing multiple violations of the Salvadoran Constitution and criminal code, including violating due process in the ongoing criminal trial related to the grave and the right to privacy of the crime’s “indirect victims.” The court order did not cite the specific laws under which Revista Factum or its staff could be prosecuted.

The order, which does not specify which parts of the article violated these laws, also required the outlet to refrain from “revealing” any information related to the case or the article in a webinar its staff had organized for that day; the court also asserted that the order “should not be understood as a ban or censorship of the media outlet.”

Revista Factum editor-in-chief César Fagoaga told CPJ in a phone interview that the outlet complied with the order and removed the article from its website, and canceled the webinar due to concerns that they could face criminal charges.

“If Salvadoran authorities are truly concerned with the integrity of an ongoing criminal case, they should clarify exactly which sections of Revista Factum’s reporting put that case in jeopardy, instead of issuing a blanket ban,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Authorities cannot use vague claims to justify censoring an entire article, and should reverse this decision immediately to avoid setting a dangerous precedent.”

The Revista Factum article, entitled “Assassin from Chalchuapa confesses how 13 victims were killed in the last year,” has been republished by the Mexican outlet Anímal Político. The article reconstructs the case of a mass grave with at least 15 bodies that was found in the yard of a former police officer in Chalchuapa, and cites the testimony of a protected witness, but does not name any victims or witnesses.

The article also cites witness statements alleging that at least 13 of the bodies were buried between 2020 and 2021, contradicting police statements alleging that the killings occurred more than 10 years ago.

Fagoaga told CPJ that the outlet’s staff see the court order as an attempt to censor their work, as the article does not disclose personal information about the victims but does contradict authorities’ timeline for the killings.

“They [government officials] want to hide things that can damage their image. So they put the image of this government before the right to the truth,” Fagoaga said.

CPJ emailed the Salvadoran attorney general’s office and contacted the judiciary through its website for comment, but did not receive any replies.